Pondering the recent data breach of 21.5 million Federal Employees, I’m in one of those bottom line moods, so let’s talk bottom line. For many brands, that means a genuine relationship between employer and employee, and that has everything to do with a strong, firmly rooted employer brand.
One common misconception: that a good employer brand starts with pricey image consultants. Yes: marketing that awesome employer brand is a great idea. But let’s take care of the inside first. Top talent often comes equipped with a healthy dose of self-preservation, and that’s a good thing — it breeds savvy, competitiveness and self-reliance. Without an authentically trustworthy employer brand, that same instinct for self-preservation will turn against you: it says you’re more interested in façade than fact, and that leadership really has other priorities. And all the fancy logos in the world won’t save your ROI.
When employees don’t trust an organization, they naturally hold back from wholehearted engagement, with far-reaching, corrosive consequences — churn and retention among them, some far more subtle. And really, we can’t get around this one: a truly authentic, engaging employer brand starts with an authentic, engaged concern for your workforce.
Here are three ways, glamorous or not, to keep it real.
Not glamorous, but critical: the latest glaring security breach is a perfect storm of a fallible personnel system and the unwieldy, apparently very permeable frontier of Big Data (not the adjectives we want to use about the future of work). Just ask those 21.5 million government workers whose sensitive (and very personal) data was hacked right out of personnel.
That they willingly provided extremely private information as part of an HR screening process to gain security clearance: the essence of HR irony. Now that we dwell in the Cloud, do your workforce a solid and invest in the strongest security systems you can, and then maintain it, improve it, and invest some more. The worst kind of disengagement is one based on fears that turn out to be justified.
Take A Holistic Approach
My friend and colleague Susan LaMotte defines a solid employer brand as founded on an understanding that employees aren’t driven by their jobs, they’re driven by their lives. The friction between real-life needs and work lives is another tremendous disengager — but a workplace that supports and develops all sides (what LaMotte calls the whole self) of an employee is one of the clearest signs that you care about your talent.
A strong, engaging, and clearly defined employer brand provides an arena where employees can engage themselves and be productive. This can and should happen across all levels, from recruitment to onboarding to training to business as usual.
Always Check In
Not just for engagement, but for success, you need the opinions and input of your workforce. Never assume things are fine. Never stop looking for better ways to check in: the workforce’s pulse has to be taken in myriad hard and soft ways, from pop-up surveys to interviews, on screen, video conference, face to face.
Don’t underestimate the value of regular debriefing meetings: our ability and need to practice hindsight after major efforts is as primal as our instinct for self-preservation. All those tales around the campfire after the hunting party have stayed in our mindsets. Providing multiple channels for feedback conveys a respect for your employees’ positions, personal preferences, and the nature of what they have to say. Then innovate ways to dovetail that input into every facet of the workplace.
Authenticity dwells in action, not image, and one common misconception posits that a good employer brand starts with pricey image consultants. Actually, it doesn’t start there, but it does need to be there. Take care of the core first: the very folk who make it happen. Then, yes, the active promotion of that well-rooted, beautifully clothed employer brand can and should happen: a strategic, multi-platform branding campaign that reinforces the reputation you know you have a right to promote.
A version of this was first posted on Forbes.